By BRUCE BAIR
Paul Polansky-Schneller may have been bemused recently when an Ellis choir
greeted him by singing "Amigos de Christos, We're Friends of the Lord."
lives in Spain, he is an American who left the country as a student and
has stayed on in Spain.
into journalism, then into property, and struck it lucky," he said.
streak turned out to be a lucky streak for thousands of Europeans and
Americans curious about the history of their families. Schneller, with
leisure time and curiosity about his own last name, began to do
grandfather, of German lineage, emigrated to Yuma, Colorado, from Bukovina, a
mountainous region of what is now Russia and Romania. At one time, it was
wholly a part of Romania; before 1918; apart of the Austro-Hungarian
of the Bukovina-Germans somewhat parallels that of the Volga Germans.
Bukovina-Germans were not farmers but mountain folk, mostly from Bavaria,
who emigrated from that region at the invitation of the Austro-Hungarian
government, and went to work as early as 1775, cutting down trees to be
used as fuel in the glass factories.
1880's many of the trees were gone, farm land in the mountainous region
was scarce, and many of the Bukovina-Germans began leaving for America and
Canada, said Schneller.
height, the Bukovina-Germans numbered about 90,000 people, scattered in
closely-knit villages across a province. a fifth the size of Kansas,
holding a total population of perhaps a million people.
1918, when Bukovina became a part of Romania, and the official language
changed, many more left; but the final blow did not come until World War
II. Most of the refugees, said Schneller, ended up in West
Germany, in many cases arriving with church and family records among
war, he said, the Bukovina-Germans formed societies and organized an
original refugees are getting older and attendance at the congress is
slipping, but "we still have a table for every town in Bukovina," said
tables are people with the same last surnames you have, and they are
definitely related to you," he said.
brought with him the names and addresses of thousands of European
Bukovina-Germans. Most of the European families possessed their
genealogies back to the 16th century.
Americans attempting to research their Bukovina-German
heritage, most of the work has already been done.
"They are as eager to learn about you as you are to learn about
them," he said.
wishing to fill in their history can find documents in archives in
Vienna, Leipzig, East Germany, and in Salt Lake City, Utah, he said. The
original records of military service and emigration contracts are in
Vienna. Church records are in Leipzig and microfilms of many of the
records are in Salt Lake City.
reason for visiting is Ellis was to conduct research among those
Bukovina-Germans who had emigrated to the Ellis area. His project is no
less than listing all Lutheran and Catholic German immigrants to Bukovina
and tracing their descendants throughout the modern world.
seems a big bite to chew, Schneller appeared equal to the task. At the St.
Mary school gym he was equipped with a computer and genealogical lists of
thousands of names.
Schneller ended his general talk and asked for questions, hands shot up.
Schnellers in the audience revealed their relationship to him. Others,
Schnellers and non-Schnellers both, asked about specific
villages. Were they still there?
Schneller, most of them completely intact, containing the original log
houses and churches built by the German immigrants.
visiting the area, at least the Romanian portion, may be a problem. He
described present day Romania as the Ethiopia of Europe. During his
last visit, he said, he was followed 24 hours a day by plainclothes
present leader of the country, President Nicolae Ceausescu, is the world's
last admirer of Stalin, and runs the country like Stalin, he said. The
Romanians, he said, want to bulldoze 13,000 villages and remove all
traces of German culture from the country.
If one is
adventurous enough to attempt a visit to Romania, he said, go in a group.
Bukovina can be accessed because it is the site of several 14th and 15th
century monasteries, which are on the United Nations list of world sites.
be arranged to the monasteries, and people can leave the tours and visit
the villages. But don't expect a good meal, he said. There is not a single
restaurant in Bukovina which has a menu.
what they have," he said.
Schneller found the original
home built by
his great-grandfather in 1808. The churches all still exist too, many in a
tumble-down, condition, some still in service as Romanian Orthodox
churches, which, in the villages, "are packed to the rafters on Sunday."
this way, he said, people reaffirm their belief in God and also protest
their government in the only way they can.
Schneller finished his talk, his job had only began. He setup
the computer containing many of his genealogies, and a long line
formed before his table. Many of those who stood carried with them thick
sheaves of documents.
Hein Ellingson, Ossian, Iowa, whose husband served as pastor of St. John
Lutheran Church, Ellis, from 1980-1983, arranged Schneller's visit.